Thursday, May 31, 2012
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
I am pretty sure this was the missing play from the set I bought. I recall asking my friend Erin at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo to keep an eye out for a copy, which she did.
What tipped me off this morning was the Ex Libris sticker pasted to the inside cover. It depicts a great ship at full sail on the ocean, keening slightly to the port side as it cuts through the waves. A few bright clouds adorn the sky above, but it appears otherwise to be a gorgeous sunny day at sea.
It says the book came from the library of one Alfred R. Jarrett. A Google search returned the following obituary page for Mr. Jarrett, who was apparently a distinguished high school music teacher in Buffalo until his death in 2005:
This confirms my belief that the book came fro Rust Belt. Well, Mr. Jarrett, thanks for completing my Yale Shakespeare collection.
from Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Before the palace of Antioch
To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come;
Assuming man's infirmities,
To glad your ear, and please your eyes.
It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember-eves and holy-ales;
And lords and ladies in their lives
Have read it for restoratives:
The purchase is to make men glorious;
Et bonum quo antiquius, eo melius.
If you, born in these latter times,
When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes.
And that to hear an old man sing
May to your wishes pleasure bring
I life would wish, and that I might
Waste it for you, like taper-light.
This Antioch, then, Antiochus the Great
Built up, this city, for his chiefest seat:
The fairest in all Syria,
I tell you what mine authors say:
This king unto him took a fere,
Who died and left a female heir,
So buxom, blithe, and full of face,
As heaven had lent her all his grace;
With whom the father liking took,
And her to incest did provoke:
Bad child; worse father! to entice his own
To evil should be done by none:
But custom what they did begin
Was with long use account no sin.
The beauty of this sinful dame
Made many princes thither frame,
To seek her as a bed-fellow,
In marriage-pleasures play-fellow:
Which to prevent he made a law,
To keep her still, and men in awe,
That whoso ask'd her for his wife,
His riddle told not, lost his life:
So for her many a wight did die,
As yon grim looks do testify.
What now ensues, to the judgment of your eye
I give, my cause who best can justify.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Henry the Eighth
Read it, forgot it, etc.
In high school I had a European history teacher named Mr. Carolyn. Mr. Carolyn was fond of mnemonic devices, which he would invent in order to help us remember information on tests. For instance, when he taught us the order of the British nobility, the device we used was "Do Men Ever Visit Boston," which translated into Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, Baron.
I am pretty sure he taught us a mnemonic for the chronological order of the fates of the wives of Henry VIII. I don't remember the device, but I do remember the order: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. I think the mnemonic also included the the names of each wife. I can only remember a few and I can't remember the order they came in. Or perhaps intend of came I should say, 'went.'
Mr. Carolyn could also draw scale maps of the entire globe from memory. And he chain-smoked in class. His classroom was on the third floor. Iron-mesh grates covered the windows. After he lit a cigarette, he would goes to the window and balance the match in on of the grates. After stubbing out his cigarette, he would do the same with the butt. By the end of the day, the whole grate would be filled with matches and butts.
He would give quizzes almost daily. After the quiz, he would handed out the graded quizzes from the day before. He would stack them in order by grade, with the highest on the top and the lowest on the bottom. He would then pass them out, announcing the grade each boy had received on the quiz.
One of his other abilities involved sending a piece of paper through the air so that it landed face-up on a students desk. As he wandered around, he would call out, "Smith, A" and float Smith's paper onto his desk from several feet away. Then he would say, well, that's it for the As and move on down until he got to the Fs. I usually fell into the C-F range.
Nonetheless I found him highly entertaining as a teacher.
from Henry the Eighth
'Tis ten to one this play can never please
All that are here: some come to take their ease,
And sleep an act or two; but those, we fear,
We have frighted with our trumpets; so, 'tis clear,
They'll say 'tis naught: others, to hear the city
Abused extremely, and to cry 'That's witty!'
Which we have not done neither: that, I fear,
All the expected good we're like to hear
For this play at this time, is only in
The merciful construction of good women;
For such a one we show'd 'em: if they smile,
And say 'twill do, I know, within a while
All the best men are ours; for 'tis ill hap,
If they hold when their ladies bid 'em clap.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Henry the Sixth: Part Three
Read it, forgot it, haven't seen it. Sound familiar? Are you getting bored yet? Only fifteen volumes of the Yale Shakespeare to go! I went to bed last night thinking of something completely unrelated to Shakespeare that I intended to write about, but I woke up having forgotten what it was. This happens often.
I'd like to give a shout out to the literary outlaw Richard Deming, who many of you know as a recurring character on this blog. Richard has been on a fellowship to the American Academy in Berlin since January and is returning to the states this weekend.
Whenever he has visited the blog, it registers on my hit counter as a little German flag that appears next to the phrase, "Nidda, Hessen." I see it about once a day.
I bring all this up because a) I have nothing to say about this play and b) I am very psyched to once again count Richard Deming not only as a compadre in literary arms but as a neighbor. An actual physical presence in my neighborhood! Our apartments in New Haven are so close that I just about spit and hit the back of his house.
Not that I would spit at his or anyone else's house. It's just a figure of speech.
from Henry the Sixth: Part Three
Away with her, and waft her hence to France.
And now what rests but that we spend the time
With stately triumphs, mirthful comic shows,
Such as befits the pleasure of the court?
Sound drums and trumpets! farewell sour annoy!
For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Cymbeline is one of those play that I have trouble remembering. So much so that I reread it now and again thinking to myself, "That's one of the plays I haven't read." I reread it, then halfway through realize I have already read it and then, after I have finished, promptly forget the whole thing.
Which is to say I think I have read Cymbeline, but I can't remember it. I have never seen it performed or adapted.
In yesterday's post, I talked about how an image of a centurion stands in for Coriolanus in my memory. This makes sense because the play takes place in ancient Rome. However, the image that stands in for Cymbeline in my mind is a fairy. I cannot tell you why this is. It may have to do with the name. 'Cymbeline' sounds to me like a fairy name, like 'Ariel.'
I am pretty sure there are no fairies in the play and that Cymbeline is a British King. Nonetheless, in my mind Cymbeline is a fairy. Go figure.
If she be furnished with a mind so rare,
She is alone the Arabian bird, and I
Have lost the wager. Boldness be my friend!
Arm me, audacity.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
My memory is a little fuzzy on this one.
I remember having it assigned in a political science course when I was in college, but I don't recall reading it.
Either I read it and forgot or I didn't do the homework. Probably the latter.
I did, however, read it at the time I bought this set. I have never seen it performed or adapted to film.
I am running a little dry again on memories.
When I think of the title of this play, it conjures an image of a centurion.
Not a general image, but something specific related to the book. Something I actually saw. A drawing, perhaps?
It registers like that: a vague outline in black and white.
I can barely draw it out into consciousness, as if I am seeing it through a fog.
I read the name "Coriolanus," I visualize an adumbration of a centurion.
That is all.
Interesting. In this edition, a facsimile of the title page of the earliest separate printed version of this play lists the title as follows:
OR, THE FALL OF
LAIUS MARTIUS CORIOLANUS
AS IT IS
THEATRE - ROYAL
A nice intro to today's excerpt, which suddenly sounds quite revolutionary.
What a great line:
"The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularise their abundance."
We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us: if they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear: the leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularise their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them. Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes: for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Henry the Sixth: Part II
Read it, forgot it. I have never seen it performed or adapted.
After yesterday's post, I did go through my shelf to see if I was indeed missing any of the plays. Turns out I am not; however, I am missing one volume of the Yale Shakespeare, a biographical volume called Shakespeare of Stratford. Hmmm...I may or may not go to the bother of picking that one up.
I now seem to recall that I was missing either Timon of Athens or Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and that my friends at Rust Belt Books ha promised to be on the lookout for it. They must have found it!
In other news, I got an email yesterday announcing that my next book of poems, Visible Instruments, is on the docket to be published by Chax Press. There's no publication date, but if I had to guess I would say some time in 2013 is likely. Chax is a great poetry press that's been operating out of Tucson for the past quarter century, possibly more. They are in the middle of a fundraising campaign. If you feel inclined to donate, the link to their donation page is here. It may help bring my book to publication faster, if that is any incentive.
from Henry the Sixth: Part II
But that my heart's on future mischief set,
I would speak blasphemy ere bid you fly:
But fly you must; uncurable discomfit
Reigns in the hearts of all our present parts.
Away, for your relief! and we will live
To see their day and them our fortune give:
Away, my lord, away!
Friday, May 25, 2012
Richard the Second
Looks like we've passed the halfway mark on the Shakespeare shelf. We might be a couple of volumes past the midpoint, actually. I still can't remember which plays I am missing. Maybe I'll figure it out before we get to the end and order them, so as to have the complete set. Or not.
I read this play when I bought the set, but I have zero recollection of it. The history plays, except for the famous ones like Henry IV and V and Richard III, all blend together. Especially when they're read with little if any knowledge of, or interest in, the historical persons upon which the plays are based, they become simply numbers in a chronology.
But that's history for you.
from Richard the Second
They love not poison that do poison need,
Nor do I thee: though I did wish him dead,
I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labour,
But neither my good word nor princely favour:
With Cain go wander through shades of night,
And never show thy head by day nor light.
Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe,
That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow:
Come, mourn with me for that I do lament,
And put on sullen black incontinent:
I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land,
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand:
March sadly after; grace my mournings here;
In weeping after this untimely bier.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Antony and Cleopatra
My first unwitting contact with this play came via T.S. Eliot. There's a line in "The Wasteland" plucked directly from the play. It's actually the opening lines from the second section, A Game of Chess
The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion.
I remember looking up the words 'burnished,' 'standards,' 'Cupidon,' & 'candelabra' after reading this passage. Which probably meant I didn't have time to look up the allusion to Antony and Cleopatra.
It wasn't until I bought this set a few years ago that I finally got around to reading the play. I had one of those moments one always has when reading one of his plays for the first time and encountering a familiar line or phrase -- "O, so that's where that comes from." Anyhow, I love this play. It's definitely one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare.
I remember I was reading it in the summer of 2007. Lori and I drove to Maine to visit Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pellissier. I can picture myself sitting in a chair in their living room reading. That night Jonathan brought home a digital projector from the college where he taught at the time and we watched Howard Hawk's 'Red River' projected on the living room wall. It was the first time I ever liked John Wayne.
On the drive back to Buffalo it suddenly dawned on me that it was time to leave our house in Black Rock, where we were terribly unhappy. I said as much to Lori. We put it on the market a month later.
from Antony and Cleopatra
She's a most triumphant lady, if report be square to
When she first met Mark Antony, she pursed up
his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.
There she appeared indeed; or my reporter devised
well for her.
I will tell you.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion--cloth-of-gold of tissue--
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
O, rare for Antony!
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,
So many mermaids, tended her i' the eyes,
And made their bends adornings: at the helm
A seeming mermaid steers: the silken tackle
Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands,
That yarely frame the office. From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast
Her people out upon her; and Antony,
Enthroned i' the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air; which, but for vacancy,
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,
And made a gap in nature.
Upon her landing, Antony sent to her,
Invited her to supper: she replied,
It should be better he became her guest;
Which she entreated: our courteous Antony,
Whom ne'er the word of 'No' woman heard speak,
Being barber'd ten times o'er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only.
She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed:
He plough'd her, and she cropp'd.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
All's Well That Ends Well
I don't think I have ever seen this play performed or adapted. And I haven't read it either. When I bought this set I read quickly through the histories, then started on the tragedies I hadn't read before. I think I stopped at the tragedies I had read and never made it to the comedies at all.
Yesterday at work, however, I did read about this play.
As you can imagine, there are very strict rules about eating in the Beinecke library. Any consumption of beverages or food must take place in the staff lounge. It's a very nicely appointed lounge, with a full working kitchen, mid-century modern decor including comfortable leather sofas and chairs, and some rather pristine artwork from the collection hanging on the walls.
The library subscribes to the print editions of many different literary and professional publications, some of which end up on the tables in the lounge. One of these is, naturally, the TLS. There always seem to be five or six of the most recent issues lying around. I generally like to read the back page, which is a sort of a comment section.
In the issue I read yesterday, someone was attacking someone else's study that called into question Shakespeare's authorship of this play, saying that the same line of reasoning had already been once pursued and discredited.People never get bored talking about Shakespeare, I guess. But are they really talking about Shakespeare? Or something else entirely? A question for another day, perhaps.
from All's Well That Ends Well
You shall find of the king a husband, madam; you,
sir, a father: he that so generally is at all times
good must of necessity hold his virtue to you; whose
worthiness would stir it up where it wanted rather
than lack it where there is such abundance.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Troilus and Cressida
I read Troilus and Cressida after I bought this set. I have never seen it performed or adapted. I did, however, play a role in the Buffalo Poets Theater production of Jack Spicer's version of the play. Two roles, actually. One a kind of queer uncle to one of the characters, the other a dirty old man. I can't recall the names of the characters I played. Pandarus, possibly? Patroclus? I wore an orange wig for one role and a gray wig for the other. One used a plastic sword as a prop, the other a copy of Penthouse. There are photos somewhere in my Facebook stream, if you are interested.
Ah, poets theater. Buffalo. Sniff sniff.
I am happy to report that I wrote my first New Haven poem yesterday. It took a good month and a half to get revved up. I felt pretty good about what I wrote when I went to sleep last night. Let's hope it lasts.
from Troilus and Cressida
O Pandarus! I tell thee, Pandarus,--
When I do tell thee, there my hopes lie drown'd,
Reply not in how many fathoms deep
They lie indrench'd. I tell thee I am mad
In Cressid's love: thou answer'st 'she is fair;'
Pour'st in the open ulcer of my heart
Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice,
Handlest in thy discourse, O, that her hand,
In whose comparison all whites are ink,
Writing their own reproach, to whose soft seizure
The cygnet's down is harsh and spirit of sense
Hard as the palm of ploughman: this thou tell'st me,
As true thou tell'st me, when I say I love her;
But, saying thus, instead of oil and balm,
Thou lay'st in every gash that love hath given me
The knife that made it.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
The Taming of the Shrew
This play holds a strange place in my memory. I am familiar with it. I know the story. I know it so well in fact that it feels as if I have read it or seen it performed -- or, more likely, seen it adapted on film -- yet I have no memory of ever having read it or seen it performed or watched it on the large or small screen. And yet I must have. The familiarity is so strong. And yet. And yet. And yet.
I had quite a day on Wednesday. My colleague at the Beinecke, Tim Young, invited me to the Academy of American Arts and Letters induction ceremony. We took the train down to the city and had lunch with a literary agent I had worked with on Babel. We ate at a lovely French bistro in the West Village. I ate fish & chips.
Afterwards, Tim and I walked the length of the High Line, the breathtaking pedestrian path that runs along a set of old rail tracks on a raised bed a story above the ground. It's kind of liking walking through an architectural Disneyland. Everything is sculpted just so and along the way you can see recent buildings by all your favorite architectural rock stars, some of them in the distance, others abutting the path itself. There's even a small amphitheater directly over 10th Ave. It's not built for performance, though, but so pedestrian can stop to look through a framed opening at the passing cars below. A kind of reality TV without the TV.
We took a cab up to the Academy. There's actually an academy, by which I mean a large, stone, neoclassical building. It's on 155th and Broadway, at the border between Harlem and Washington Heights. Who knew such a place existed outside of its name?
The ceremony took place in a small white theater that seats about 500 people. Members of the academy and the honorees sit on the stage, facing out towards the audience. Before the ceremony begins, a photographer shout orders from the balcony and then takes a group portrait of those on stage.
It's quite something to see so many artistic superstars on one stage. And there was actually one "real" star up there with them -- Meryl Streep! She sat next to Chuck Close, who gave the keynote. They seemed to be friends, as after he spoke she helped him unwrap a throat lozenge and fed it to him.
Let's see, who else was there? Paul Auster and Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen and Kara Walker and Steve Reich and John Zorn and Garrison Keillor and so on and so on. The highlight, however, was Pete Seeger, who received an award.
Rather than thank the audience, the 93-year-old folk singer and activist legend stood up and led the whole room in a singalong. Watching Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen sing along to "Turn, Turn, Turn," with John Zorn sitting behind them not singing, was itself worth the whole trip.
And then we shared a cab with poet J.D. McClatchy down to Grand Central and headed back home on the train.
from The Taming of the Shrew
Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready; may it do him ease.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
The Comedy of Errors
I first saw this performed in Central Park. I remember it being a wild production with all kinds of special effects. The color yellow played an important role. Very loud yellow. I remember male opera singer dressed like a wizard rising up through the floor. A man on a zip wire flying across the set. Big hats. A buxom, African American gospel singer belting out a tune. It was great fun.
from The Comedy of Errors
I pray you, jest, sir, as you sit at dinner:
I from my mistress come to you in post;
If I return, I shall be post indeed,
For she will score your fault upon my pate.
Methinks your maw, like mine, should be your clock,
And strike you home without a messenger.
Friday, May 18, 2012
As You Like It
When I was in college, the drama school at Fordham staged a production of As You Like It at the Lincoln Center Campus. I went to school at the Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx. I remember they had a free shuttle van that would take you between campuses. It only ran until about 10 PM, as I recall, making it pretty useless for late night returns from Manhattan. Many a student got mugged walking back to campus from the two Fordham Rd. trains stations at 3 AM after a night of partying in the city. I wonder if they've changed that?
I remember my imagination kind of running off upon hearing the phrase "the forest of arden." It always seemed like a magical place to run off to.
I have seen As You Like It staged on at least one other occasion. Hmmm... Central Park? Delaware Park in Buffalo? Looking at the list of past productions in Central Park, it seems likely I saw it there. I don't really remember the production, though, so who knows. It is also possible I saw it in Delaware Park, as it was also staged there during my time in Buffalo. Maybe I have seen it three times.
I have not seen the Kenneth Branagh film.
from As You like it
Wedding is great Juno's crown:
O blessed bond of board and bed!
'Tis Hymen peoples every town;
High wedlock then be honoured:
Honour, high honour and renown,
To Hymen, god of every town!
Thursday, May 17, 2012
A Midsummer Night's Dream
I think my first encounter with this play came via the movie, "Dead Poet's Society." One of the main story lines involves a young student at an elite boarding school who discovers that he wants to act. His authoritarian father, a man of more modest means than most of the other fathers who send their sons to this school, insists that his son give up acting, fearing it will distract him from his studies and leave him unprepared for the "real" world. The boy's English teacher, who has ignited his passion for drama, attempts to reason with the father, but to no avail. He bans his son from acting and the boy commits suicide. The school, looking for a scapegoat, blames the teacher.
I remember my father coming home from seeing this movie and telling me how much he liked it, so much so, in fact, that he took me to see it the following weekend. I was the same age as the main character and having similar struggles with my own father. I remember relating to the film. A few weeks later, my father's attitude towards DPS changed. I think he worried that I might attempt to solve our own problems in a similar fashion to the main character. He started telling me how wrong he thought it was that the boy committed suicide and how selfish an act suicide was and how it was never the solution, etc etc etc.
This happened several times. My father loved movies and could enjoy them for whatever aesthetic or emotional satisfaction they provided, but on occasion he would have negative reactions to them after the fact. On some level, I think he believed that people imitated movie idols to such an extent that it was his duty as a parent, despite his own positive response to a film, to preach against what he saw as the dangers of its moral message.
He had a similar reaction to "Do The Right Thing." He loved the movie, but then he did a similar about face and began telling me things like "violence never solves anything," and so on. As a white business owner whose employees were almost all black and almost all underpaid, I think he identified with Danny Aiello's character and feared that one of his employees might be a Mookie waiting to happen.
On a related side note to this play, I highly recommend the 1935 film version, featuring Mickey Rooney, James Cagney, Olivia de Haviland and many others. It's a visual gem.
from A Midsummer Night's Dream
O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years,--
O spite! too old to be engaged to young.
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,--
O hell! to choose love by another's eyes.
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say 'Behold!'
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Henry the Fourth, Part II
I don't have these shelved in any particular order at the moment, hence the second part's coming before the first. Not sure if part the first is even the next book on the shelf. Chronology be damned!
I think my first contact with this play, as with Henry the Fifth, was vis-a-vis "My Own Private Idaho," which came out when I was in college. I don't think I actually read the play until ten or twelve years later when I bought this set and read through the history plays.
Oddly, my first contact with "My Own Private Idaho" came many, many years before I actually heard the song by the B-52s.
Isn't it strange how much information passes by us unnoticed until one day we see it and suddenly a whole chain of information forms, as if out of thin air. For instance, how is it possible that I never heard the song until so late in my life, given how popular the B-52's were when I was a teen?
A question for the ages.
from Henry the Fourth, Part II
Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth:
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Twelfth Night Or What You Will
I remember reading this one in college. We read it for a required course called "Chaucer, Shakespeare & Milton." Christopher someone or other was the name of the professor. I can't remember his last name. He was British and very informal in his teaching. We often arranged our desks in a circle for discussions. He would never stand in the center of the circle. He always sat in a chair among the students. I guess this was an attempt to break down the barrier between student and teacher. I liked him, and he seemed to like me, though I never got close to him. I remember he came up for tenure during my junior or senior year and didn't get it and then he left and that was that.
from Twelfth Night Or What You Will
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall;
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more;
'T is not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou!
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute! so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Love's Labour's Lost
This is one of the few plays that I have neither read nor seen performed. I think I had soured on Kenneth Branagh by the time he'd adapted it to film. Thus, as I was typing out the title this morning I learned for the first time that the second word in the title, in addition to taking the British spelling variant, also takes a strange apostrophe at the end. I'd always thought it was "Love's Labour Lost." I guess it means Love's Labour IS Lost, which amounts to nearly the same thing.
Boy, there's lots of Shakespeare left on the shelf. Will it continue to yield interesting things for me to say for the next several weeks? I suppose it will depend on the play. The ones I've read should all generate some memories or ideas. Alas, this one has left me feeling a bit like the last of the three Ls in the title. That is, "lost."
Pretty good opening lines, though...
from Love's Labour's Lost
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register'd upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.
Friday, May 11, 2012
Somehow I managed to get through college without ever having read King Lear. I read Shakespeare in many different courses and contexts, but never once was I assigned this play. I became aware of this absence in my education just after college -- or maybe it was just before I graduated, I am not sure. Actually, I think it may have been during my senior year. Yes, it was.
I watched a video with the few friends of a British film called, "The Dresser." It stars Albert Finney as an aging Shakespearean actor. The "dresser" of the title refers to his personal assistant, played by Tom Courtenay. It's a kind of mise en abîme in which the aging actor, whose wits and powers are fading, plays the aging King, whose wits and power are fading, growing paranoid and visionary all at once.
It's a great film. I remember saying to myself that I needed to read King Lear. I am pretty sure I did at within a year, but for some reason the feeling that I had yet to read it lingered in my mind, like the memory of a severed limb. Each time I would hear it referenced, I would think to myself, I've got to read 'King Lear.' Then I would read it and promptly forget that I had done so.
This went on for several years until I had read the play at least five times. I think it finally dawned on me that I had read it when I saw several film adaptations, like Kurosawa's "Ran" and Godard's abysmal "King Lear," featuring Molly Ringwald, and Norman Mailer. I can remember at that point knowing the story well enough that I could compare it's plot points to those of the original.
Which is to say King Lear is no longer and absence in my memory. It is present.
from King Lear
Let the great gods
That keep this dreadful pudder o'er our heads
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch
That hast within thee undivulgèd crimes
Unwhipped of justice. Hide thee, thou bloody hand,
Thou perjured, and thou simular man of virtue
That art incestuous. Caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practiced on man’s life. Close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents and cry
These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man
More sinned against than sinning.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
My earliest encounter with this play came via the old "Our Gang" serials, featuring The Little Rascals. Before we owned a VHS at home, my father belonged to a movie club run by Blackhawk films, where he could buy 8mm copies of old one reelers and abridged versions of classic features.
He owned an abridged version of "Duck Soup," as well as one reelers from the same era featuring the likes of Laurel and Hardy and The Little Rascals. Our family often spent Friday nights in a darkened room watching home movies of our soccer games, as well as a host of old films he'd purchased. I seem to recall he also owned an abridged version of "Scrooge," featuring Alastair Sim in the title role.
Anyhow, in one of the "Our Gang" episodes, I recall that Spanky attempts to recite Mark Antony's speech for a talent show, but before he can get the words, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" out of his mouth, all hell breaks loose in the theater.
Ah, I found it! Here's your history lesson for the morning.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Life and Death of King John
Very little time this morning. I'll say only that when I bought this set a few years ago the first task I set myself was to read the history plays in the order of their historical action. King John comes first in this scheme and thus I began here. Ok, off to get a CT driver's license. Ugh.
from The Life and Death of King John
Your strong possession much more than your right,
Or else it must go wrong with you and me:
So much my conscience whispers in your ear,
Which none but heaven and you and I shall hear.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The Winter's Tale
Even with the aid of my trusty desk lamp, which I have been using the past few years as a de facto studio light for photos, the gray morning light proved to bleak to get a clear photo of the spine of this book. In bad light everything blurs. So, I have reverted once again to photographing the title page instead of the spine. The title page of The Winter's Tale is not nearly as interesting as the title page of Titus Andronicus, which had a reproduction of a manuscript on the facing page.
I don't have any real memories about this play. I think I first heard the title when I studied Dinesen's collection of stories The Winter's Tales during a course in college. It was taught by the same man who taught me Ulysses, D.H. Lawrence, et al.:Phil Sicker. I wrote about his teaching style while ago. Just the other day, a comment popped up beneath that blog entry from my old college professor himself. Turned out his son, who I also mention in the post, had been searching the internet and stumbled upon the entry, which he passed along to his father.
It's a small world wide web, after all.
from The Winter's Tale
There may be in the cup
A spider steeped, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
Th' abhorred ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk, and seen the spider.
Monday, May 7, 2012
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
I think I may have seen this in Central Park back in the early nineties. I have definitely seen a production of it somewhere, sometime.
I am still drawing a bit of a blank this morning, as I often do at a certain point when I get to an author who has many titles on my shelf. I start to think about how many more of these entries I have to fulfill before I get to the next author. I worry that I won't have anything to say, that no memories or anecdotes will jar themselves loose when I stare at each book.
I am staring at this one right now. Like most in my collection the blue on the cover is much brighter and richer than the blue on the spine, which is quite faded. The impressed gold title of the series still has some shine to it, while the spine text of the title is hard to read. Other than that, the text is tight and clean. No notes of any kind.
I've always wondered about these sets of The Yale Shakespeare. I think they were printed in the fifties. Was this something every student was once required to purchase? Was it something people could purchase from a catalogue? There seem to be a lot of them on the used book market, which leads me to believe they were fairly widely available at some point. I guess I could ask someone at work if I really want to know.
from The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Thus have I shunn'd the fire for fear of burning,
And drench'd me in the sea, where I am drown'd.
I fear'd to show my father Julia's letter,
Lest he should take exceptions to my love;
And with the vantage of mine own excuse
Hath he excepted most against my love.
O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Much Ado About Nothing
Fighting the sense I have nothing to say this morning. Sometimes I have to just start writing until something useful pops up.
I suppose I could talk about having seen the Kenneth Branagh film, but I covered my feelings on that subject in yesterday's post.
I could talk about what a great title this play has and how I am always struck by how deeply Shakespeare's titles, phrases, etc., have embedded themselves into the DNA of the English language.
I could talk about my daughter, Emily, who is standing in her exer-saucer right now, sucking on a raspberry-shaped pacifier while pressing a button over and over that causes a recorded voice to pronounce the letter "A."
I could talk about how she likes to hold on to my fingers and attempt to stand on her own.
I could talk about how cranky she was all day yesterday.
I could talk about the mess the tenant on the third floor made in the back yard last night celebrating both Cinco de Mayo and her thirtieth birthday with about a hundred friends.
I could talk about the conversation I had with a fellow dog walker this morning during my diurnal lap around the block with Zelda.
I could talk about the weather.
I could talk about the new vacuum cleaner and how deliriously happy it made Lori.
I could talk about the difficulty I have had finding my special brand of toothpaste in New Haven.
I could talk about missing all my friends in Buffalo.
I could talk about my trip to NYC on Friday.
I could talk about having lunch with my friend, P, and how we went to a restaurant at Grand Central Station, sat down, looked at the prices on the menu, and walked out.
I could talk about the amazing fish tacos Lori made last night.
I could talk about watching Game of Thrones.
I could talk about watching Treme.
I could talk about starting to watch Jim Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation which, I amazingly, I have never seen.
I could talk about Haruki Murakami.
But I guess I don't really feel like talking right now
from Much Ado About Nothing
O Hero! What a Hero hadst thou beenIf half thy outward graces had been placedAbout thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart!But fare thee well, most foul, most fair, farewellThou pure impiety and impious purity.For thee I’ll lock up all the gates of love,And on my eyelids shall conjecture hang To turn all beauty into thoughts of harm,And never shall it more be gracious.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Henry the Fifth
I think my first contact with this play came via Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho," starring Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix. Later, I saw the Kenneth Branagh version. Still later, much later, actually, just a few years ago, to be exact, I read the play myself.
Sadly, whenever I think of this play, Kenneth Branagh's face pops into my head. I liked his version alright, but I have disliked him in almost everything since, which has tainted my opinion of his film, whatever its merits.
from Henry the Fifth
For so work the honey-bees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king and officers of sorts;
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home,
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,
Others, like soldiers, armèd in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds;
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
The spine on this one is too faded to photograph, especially in this morning's industrial gray light. I saw the film version of Titus, with Anthony Hopkins, before I read it. I remember it being very bloody.
When we left off yesterday I was about to take revenge on my parents for docking my allowance. I don't think I had started smoking yet, so this may have been the first real appearance of my addictive personality. Addictive personalities operate under circular logic. It looks something like the following.
Without an allowance I cannot play video games. Without video games I cannot escape reality. Without an escape from reality, I will have to face reality. If I have to face reality, I might go insane.
And so on...
I decided to steal the money back, a few dollars at a time, until I had recovered my losses. I went to my mother's purse one day to see if I could sneak a five dollar bill. When I opened her wallet I discovered that she was carrying hundreds of dollars in twenties. I decided to be bold and take one. I rode straight to the arcade, stopping at 7-Eleven along the way for a Big Gulp of Dr Pepper and some candy and to purchase a roll of quarters.
I spent the entire day playing video games.
Then I waited to see if I got caught. One day. Two days. Three days. My mother said nothing. So I tried it again. I took another twenty and went through the same cycle f waiting. Still she didn't suspect. Thus began a two year period in which I stole continually from my mother in order feed my video game jones. I did eventually get caught, but only because one of my brothers ratted me out. We were fighting about something and he had seen me take some money and to get back at me he reported it.
I realize now that the reason she never noticed was because she never knew how much cash she was carrying. My father's car rental business on K Street in DC came with a parking garage, which he operated as a cash business. I think he told the IRS that he used it only for parking his rental cars, when in fact he was running a lucrative operation and hiding all the money. What did not going into a savings account to pay for private schools and college went to my mother's wallet in the form of untraceable cash.
In other words, she didn't have to count it, so she didn't. And what mother would ever suspect her darling son of being a video game junkie-thief?
from Titus Andronicus
That we may hew his limbs and on a pile,
Ad manes fratrum, sacrifice his flesh
Before this earthy prison of their bones,
That so the shadows be not unappeased
Nor we disturbed with prodigies on earth.
Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Timon of Athens
I read through most of the volumes in this collection about five years ago, but I can't recall whether or not I read Timon of Athens. I probably did, because as I remember I set out to read all the plays I hadn't read prior to going back to the ones I had. I read all the history plays first, then the more obscure ones like this. I'd venture to say that I did read it.
After Space Invaders came Asteroids. I played the latter more than the former, but I never got very good at either one of them. It didn't really matter. What did matter was the escape from reality. For whatever I reason I needed it badly and video Games provided the perfect exit from this world into another in which the rules were laid out pretty clearly, as were the consequences for failure: another quarter in the slot.
Within a couple years of my encounter with Space Invaders, the video game craze had taken hold. Arcades sprang up everywhere: malls, drug stores, movie theaters, pizza parlors–anywhere with a spare corner for a console had a game, and every game had someone feeding it quarters from the open of business to close.
In Vienna, Virginia, where I lived, the place to go was a little hobby shop called Executive Hobby. They mostly specialized in Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia and model airplane kits, but they had a wall that ran the length of the store dedicated to video games. At some point or other, they had all the classics: Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Miss Pac-Man, Battle Zone, Tron, Berzerk and, my personal favorite, Scrambler.
In the summer between 7th and 8th grades I went there almost every day. I used to have only a dollar or two to play with, and this never laster very long. One day I rode my bike there with a friend, who borrowed my younger brother's brand new bike. We never locked our bikes up (can you feel the narrative tension mounting?). We went inside and played until we ran out of quarters.
When we went outside we discovered that my brother's bike (and not mine) had been stolen. My parents were not happy. Either I had used the bike without permission or I had gone to the arcade against my parents wishes. Regardless, they were angry about at least two things. They docked my allowance for the whole summer to pay for the lost bike.
I was mad. I hadn't stolen the bike. No one ever told me to lock it up.
I was steaming mad. I wanted revenge. And I got it....
from Timon of Athens
Poet: A thing slipp'd idly from me.
Our poesy is as a gum, which oozes
From whence 'tis nourished: the fire i' the flint
Shows not till it be struck; our gentle flame
Provokes itself, and like the current, flies
Each bound it chafes.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Naturally, my earliest memory of The Tempest has nothing to do with Shakespeare. You may recall that in the late seventies-early eighties there was a video game called Tempest. They had a machine at the Pizza Hut about a mile from my house. I think it was one of those tabletop machines where two people could sit. I don't remember much about the game, except that it attempted to create depth by using vector graphics that converged at a horizon point. Geometric figures hurtled towards you out of this abyss and you had to shoot them. It wasn't my all time favorite game, but I played it a lot.
I have a memory of listening to Def Leppard on the jukebox while sitting at that table.
I don't think I have so far on this blog delved into my childhood video game addiction. It was powerful and it lasted several years. I can remember the first time I saw a video game that wasn't Pong. My friend J., who always had money because he ran a paper route, went to a bowling alley in Fairfax, VA. Inside they had an arcade filled with pinball machines, skeeball, air hockey, and various other pre-digital entertainments.
On this occasion we entered the arcade on the way out to the parking lot to meet his mother. We had just called her on the payphone, so we had a few minutes to kill before she arrived. J. wanted to play a game of pinball, so we wandered over to one of the machines. My mother had only given me money for bowling, so I was going to have to watch him play. He never offered to give me a precious quarter.
Before we got to the pinball machine, we noticed a gang of kids gathered around a tall, blue, upright machine that we couldn't see clearly. Everyone and oohed and aahed and cheered and in between these sounds of excitement we could hear strange beeping sounds we had never heard before emanate into the arcade.
We approached to discover a small kid, about our own age, standing before the console, slapping his fingers repeatedly against a plastic button. He held on for what seemed like dear life to a red ball attached to the end of a small rod. His hed bobbed back and forth, as if her were dodging punches. We pushed our way through the crowd of onlookers until we could see what was causing the commotion.
There, glowing on a kind of TV screen embedded in the console, we could see rows and rows of stacked digital figures hovering in a grid over a black background, dropping small projectiles towards a solitary figure at the bottom of the screen that slid horizontally back and forth, firing upwards at the hovering army. Between them stood rhomboid shapes that seemed to protect the solitary figure from falling projectiles, which slowly ate away at the barriers when they made contact.
Above the TV set, two words: Space Invaders. My life was changed forever.